I have been to several special events and interesting discussions with women on a range of issues lately. I’ve also taken some photographs of some terrific (mostly) Jamaican women whom I admire. This is a dynamic group… and there are many more Jamaican women with so much to offer in the public and private sectors.
So here we go with a few comments that I found interesting, with photos of the commenters… Enjoy!
What is Tambrin (Tamarind) Season? It is the time of year when Jamaica changes down to a low gear. After Christmas, businesses don’t do so well. People have no money in their pockets, and bills to pay. Jobs are fewer. Now, the tamarind is a delicious fruit that is not greatly used in Jamaican cuisine, unfortunately – except to make the delicious sweet/sour tamarind balls. There was quite a large tamarind tree near our house, which was cut down years ago to facilitate the building of yet another gated community. It bears from January to March, when other fruits are scarce. So, this is the season.
But in some areas, Jamaica has started its tambrin season in a far from low-key fashion. As I noted last week, the Jamaica Constabulary Force and Ministry of National Security kicked off 2013 with a veritable barrage of press releases, speeches and announcements. Unfortunately, it has been accompanied by a literal barrage of gunshots. The Jamaica Constabulary Force has killed eighteen civilians since the start of the year. This may actually exceed the number of murders in 2013 so far.
The latest was the killing of three men in upper St. Andrew, a mile or so from my house, yesterday morning. The word soon got around to avoid the area as gunshots had been heard. Two of the dead men were from the adjoining “inner city” area of Grants Pen – which has seen many troubles – and one was from an “upscale” area called Smokey Vale; one of the men was apparently his golf caddy. Now, of course all of these men may have been hardened “bad men” and they may have been carrying guns; but whether they were or not, why kill them? Oh yes, it was probably a “shootout” - the usual description of such an encounter between police and civilians (although, interestingly, it is extremely rare for a policeman to be injured, let alone killed in these alleged “shootouts.”) And the men were probably “wanted men.” We are always told that after their blood has already stained the sidewalk and their bodies have already been thrown into the back of a police jeep. They never got their day in court.
I shall leave it at that. Judge for yourself, dear reader. But please, let’s think about where we are going with all of this. If the police continues at the same rate, they will have dispatched 547 civilians by the end of 2013.
It was a sad week all round, actually. An eight-year-old girl was caught in gunfire while standing near a little shop near Duncans, Trelawny on Friday evening; she was killed, and three others injured. When it transpired that the girl was a British citizen, National Security Minister Peter Bunting immediately issued a press release expressing shock and regret. The little girl, a sickle cell sufferer, had been brought to Jamaica by relatives to get some warm weather (the cold affects sicklers very badly). How tragic. And how very sad, too, that Minister Bunting could not express the same kind of heartfelt regret at the murders of a humble, hard-working, middle-aged Jamaican couple who ran a shop in rural St. Mary, a few days earlier.
To me, the loss of each one of these lives is a tragedy: whether man or woman, child or adult, British or Jamaican, good citizen or “bad man.”
Meanwhile, with a remarkable lack of sensitivity in its headline, the Sunday Observer cries out today, “Who would kill this child?” with a photo of the adorable infant killed by her mother a few days ago. The media really needs to explore the issue of mental health in Jamaica. This is another one that has been pushed under the carpet over the years. The mother was likely suffering from postpartum depression and already had some problems. Her supportive partner had always ensured that she took her medication and recognized that her mental health had deteriorated, but it was still not enough. Sadly, many Jamaicans with mental health issues do not seek help, go untreated and are often ignored and/or stigmatized. I think the well-meaning Health Minister Fenton Ferguson is fully aware of the problem, and the current head of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) is a well-known psychiatrist. They need to work together on this one – a public awareness program on mental health would be a good way to start.
Which leads me straight into the next painful issue that I regret I must at least touch on today: the issue of children in adult prisons and lock-ups. I addressed this two days ago in a separate blog post. But last week, another girl at the Fort Augusta women’s prison attempted suicide. A couple of weeks before that, three girls were transferred from the maximum-security Horizon Remand Centre after they were suspected of planning to commit suicide by hoarding pills. In the face of the continued and unrelenting criticism of her performance as Youth and Culture Minister, the glamorous Ms. Hanna is today visiting the two prisons where children are kept behind bars, with the afore-mentioned MAJ head and other psychiatrists in tow. I hope – I truly do hope – that this is not a PR exercise or a photo-op (I am sure Ms. Hanna will be beautifully dressed. She always is). We await the results of this high-powered visit. And I hope this is not her first visit to the incarcerated children.
Another tactic that the lovely Minister Hanna has adopted within her Ministry was the topic of a Gleaner editorial yesterday. In order to counteract declining morale in the Ministry, Ms. Hanna brought in a religious person and many containers of salt. Yes, salt. I understand that salt has cleansing properties, and guards against bad luck. So, with a combination of organized religion and superstition, Ms. Hanna has sought to address the problems affecting her office. Perhaps, instead, she could have brought in a motivational speaker – you know, one of those upbeat people who have you all down on your knees or hopping around on one leg or something to get you inspired and motivated to work harder and love all your colleagues. Or bring in a counselor or two to have an open chat with the employees about the problems they are having. This story may well have been exaggerated – possibly circulated by someone who has a personal animus against Ms. Hanna. But if it is even remotely true, it raises the perennial question of the line between church and state. Why does religion – one particular religion, as we are told Jamaica is “predominantly” Christian – have to enter the workplace, meetings etc; and why, in particular, in a government office? (Oh, and is it true that each employee had to keep a container of salt on their desk?)
By the way, Ms. Hanna has reportedly never got back to Mustard Seed Communities, who immediately offered to assist with providing care and shelter for the imprisoned girls following the death of Vanessa Wint last November, and presented her with a proposal. Not a word.
Goodness me, I nearly forgot to give you a follow-up on the Prime Minister’s televised address, which took place one week ago. As I noted last week, anticipation began to soar ahead of the evening broadcast. I have posted the link again, below. The broadcast was partly a “report card” (that expression irritates me, not sure why) on the government’s first year in office. It was a list of notable (and some not so notable) achievements. But it appears that Jamaicans did not want to be told about how many tourist arrivals we are expecting from Russia; or even how many teachers were trained last year (are there jobs for them?) They wanted to hear about 1) how the talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are progressing; 2) what serious prospects there are for more jobs and 3) what is happening in the economy in general. There was some information (mostly already announced) about major infrastructural projects in the pipeline; an exhortation to “unite and build”; the inevitable Bible reference – Old Testament is always preferable; quotes from the lyrics of a Jimmy Cliff song; and even the oft-repeated platitude that “children are our future.” That was it. And in passing, the Prime Minister mentioned that the Jamaican Dollar slipped, and the Net International Reserves “dipped.” Did this happen all by itself, Madam Prime Minister? They just decided to slip and dip?
Despite party loyalist Delano Franklyn’s valiant efforts to defend the Prime Minister’s address, the fact is that it went down like a lead balloon. Not only among the general public, but in the private sector sphere. Head of the powerful Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) Christopher Zacca made a hard-hitting speech following the address, during which he referred to what he called a “seemingly unexplainable lack of widespread public discourse by the Government, Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet” on the details of the IMF situation. And Mr. Zacca believes that going ahead without such an agreement “risks plunging us into the abyss…” You can see the link to the full text of his speech, below.
Poor Portia. Everything about her address was up for criticism – even her yellow attire (daffodil yellow was the “Portia color“ adopted by her supporters during election campaigns). But instead of taking it on the chin, as every politician and public figure around the world has to do, our Prime Minister decided to “fight back” (to use a favorite media expression) at what she called her “naysayers” and “detractors” in her address. And she should not have gone down that road. Next time, perhaps, she will be calling her critics “haters.” Anyway, in a speech a few days later, Ms. Simpson Miller told us that she does not watch the television news; she has others (including her husband) to do that. Why? Because she wants to “remain positive.”
This, of course, made matters worse.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet went into a three-day retreat this week. In a huge effort to communicate, it has been issuing regular bulletins about the excellent progress made. The Prime Minister and other ministers are to inform us all tomorrow on what was decided, and what is the way forward. We eagerly await this press briefing, and the subsequent actions.
By the way, if you have ventured downtown, you may observe that things are pretty chaotic. Not only is the long-running lack of garbage collection a major issue there and around the country; but something has gone wrong with the street vendors. Since Christmas, the seemingly desperate vendors have been throwing down their goods on the sidewalk. They have been playing a cat and mouse game with the police, who have been called in to deal with them. A somewhat heavy-handed approach, one might think, to a situation which has already got out of hand. I can see the thinly veiled desperation in the faces of the vendors when they speak on television. They have pickney going to school, they say. They didn’t do well over the festive season. Nevertheless… there must be some order. A plan. Something, Madam Mayor?
A couple more things: Nationwide News Network reporter George Davis wrote in his regular Gleaner column about the way in which hours are wasted by lazy employees in the public sector. He was, he said, speaking from his own experience and observations as a former employee. The column made me laugh, but had a depressing ring of truth to it. It is all about productivity, a topic not regularly referred to in discussions on the economy. As one caller to a radio talk show questioned, how come we have 37,000 farmers in Jamaica, and agriculture only contributes six per cent to our Gross Domestic Product?
When a country has more weighty political, economic and social matters to address, environmental issues tend to get left behind. But I was most disturbed to hear that an exporter had forty containers full of charcoal ready to ship? The Jamaica Environment Trust has raised the alarm on this, and the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) has, to its credit, stepped in to prevent this ever happening again. I have been quite impressed by comments made by NEPA head Peter Knight, backed by the Forestry Department, on this issue. NEPA has written to the Customs Department asking them to prevent this shipment. Hopefully this is one thing that will be nipped in the bud.
And on a more “positive” note, to quote the Prime Minister:
I am so happy to hear that the dreaded Lionfish, which has been plaguing our waters and gobbling up all our native fish, is now on the decline along our north and north-west coasts. Congratulations to the University of the West Indies Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory and Field Station and Sandals Resorts, who are at the forefront of the battle against this invasive species, supported by non-governmental organizations such as the Caribbean Coastal Area Conservation Foundation (C-CAM).
I like the political commentary of the Gleaner’s Gary Spaulding. Please see the link below. He gets to the heart of things. (And is the Prime Minister’s problem that she is getting bad advice from a multitude of advisers? Astute commentator and former Opposition minister Christopher Tufton seems to think so).
Mr. Usain Bolt says he is not tired of receiving all kinds of awards. On Friday night, he and Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce received RJR’s prestigious Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Awards – predictably, and most deservedly. We are very proud of them both not only for their achievements, but for being such decent, warm-hearted individuals. I totally love them (teenage expression!)
Well, so ends the second week of 2013. I am really, really hoping for better in the second half of this month.
P.S. A deejay called Dillinger did a great song called “Tambrin’ Season,” if you enjoy a bit of dub as I do.
P.P.S. My friend, author, social media expert and businesswoman extraordinaire Marcia Forbes just suggested that I do my weekly blog in two parts. It’s a bit long, isn’t it? I will start doing that next week, I think.
Finally, as always, my deepest condolences to the family and friends of all those who lost their lives violently this week. Words cannot express the grief and suffering.
Larry Chin, 47, May Pen, Clarendon
Anthony Rambalam, 53, Rosemount/Linstead, St. Catherine
Ivey Rambalam, 52, Rosemount/Linstead, St. Catherine
Imani Green, 8, British citizen, Red Dirt/Duncans, Trelawny
Peter Maxwell, teenager, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland
Unidentified man, Belvedere, Hanover
Killed by security forces (I am sorry, this list is not 100% accurate; any corrections welcome. I simply lost track):
Jermaine Campbell, Whithorn District, Westmoreland
3 unidentified men, May Pen, Clarendon
Agronomy District, Clarendon
Rivoli, St. Catherine
Duncan’s Pen, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Bartons, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Port Henderson Road, Portmore, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Port Henderson Road, Portmore, St. Catherine
Kenrick Morris, 28, Lilliput, St. James
Eucliffe Dyer, Arcadia Drive, Kingston 8
“Ratty,” Arcadia Drive, Kingston 8
Matthew Lee, Arcadia Drive, Kingston 8
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/The-reality-of-Jamaica-s-debt-crisis_13350521 (The reality of Jamaica’s debt crisis: Jamaica Observer editorial)
http://www.caribjournal.com/2013/01/11/dennis-chung-avoiding-economic-and-social-decline-in-jamaica/ (Avoiding economic and social decline in Jamaica: Dennis Chung/Carib Journal)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130110/cleisure/cleisure4.html (Human rights just as important as IMF: Jaevion Nelson op-ed/Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42191 (Police kill ten civilians in ten days: Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/lead/lead2.html (Cops kill eighteen in twelve days: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120307/lead/lead3.html (Police killings spark outrage: Gleaner, March 7, 2012)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/INDECOM-jump-starts-cold-case-files_13362585 (INDECOM jump starts cold case files: Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Grief-in-Rosemount-as-residents-mourn-murder-of-couple_13351587 (Grief in Rosemount as residents mourn murder of couple: Observer)
http://go-jamaica.com/news/read_article.php?id=42182 (Long-awaited Tivoli report ready: Gleaner/Power 106 FM)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/yale-students-file-suit-against-dea-to-release-tivoli-tapes (Yale students file suit against DEA to release Tivoli tapes: RJR News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gang-feud-puts-Tivoli-Gardens-on-edge_13346079 (Gang feud puts Tivoli Gardens on edge: Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/grieving-mother-still-hopes-for-justice (Grieving mother still hopes for justice: RJR)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/Melvin-Chung-s-death-goes-deep_13339337 (Melvin Chung’s death goes deep: Letter to Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/How-could-anyone-kill-this-baby- (How could anyone kill this baby? Sunday Observer)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-21002359 (Imani Green Jamaica killing: “Happy girl,” eight, shot dead: BBC News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-We-are-still-waiting-_13346061 (“We are still waiting: Government yet to take up Mustard Seed’s offer: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130112/cleisure/cleisure1.html (How much religion is too much? Gleaner editorial)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32668 (National Broadcast by Prime Minister Simpson Miller: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/letters/letters4.html (Disillusioned by Prime Minister’s address: Letter to the Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Vision-and-strategy-are-still-misunderstood_13358995 (Vision and strategy are still misunderstood: James Moss-Solomon column/Sunday Observer)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/23431 (Television Jamaica’s Bite of the Week: Portia Simpson Miller)
http://www.cvmtv.com/videos_1.php?id=591§ion=watch (CVM Television News Watch: January 9, 2013)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32720 (Good progress made at Special Meeting of the Cabinet, says PM Simpson Miller: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Cabinet must be ready to “re-retreat”: Sunday Gleaner editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Political turning points: column by Gary Spaulding/Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/focus/focus5.html (Fumbling Portia should loosen grip of political advisers: op-ed by Christopher Tufton/Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32704 (Leaders to pray for more love on January 17: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42216 (Prison officials confirm ward’s suicide attempt: Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/youth-minister-to-lead-visit-to-prisons (Youth Minister to lead visit to prisons: RJR News)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/lead/lead4.html (Grading the Cabinet – responses: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130109/cleisure/cleisure2.html (In the office but not on the job: George Davis op-ed/Gleaner)
http://www.psoj.org/files/s_to_the_Lions_Club_of_Kingston__2013_01_09_.pdf (Address by PSOJ President Christopher Zacca to Lion’s Club, January 9, 2013)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/ocgs-utterances-could-damage-countrys-image-atkinson (OCG’s utterances could damage country’s image – Atkinson: RJR News)
http://www.og.nr/rbt/11035-dean-of-discipline-at-rusea-s-high-chopped-during-attack.html (Dean of Discipline at Rusea’s High chopped during attack: On the Ground News Reports)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130109/letters/letters1.html (Chavez no paragon of virtue: Letter to the Editor/Gleaner)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32694 (U.S. solar technology company to employ Jamaicans: Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-We-are-going-to-lose-our-forests-_13355374 (“We are going to lose our forests”: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42202 (Environmental group concerned about charcoal exports: Gleaner)
Last week, we celebrated a birthday. The child is just one year old, a mere infant. But she is growing up fast.
“She” is the 51% Coalition – a coalition of “Women in Partnership for Development and Empowerment Through Equity.” The Coalition is very much an action-oriented group, committed to these goals. It has a businesslike approach to its mission of bringing women to the table – to make a strong contribution to Jamaica’s development. To quote its press release: “Over the past year the 51% Coalition has been working to redress the gender imbalance in decision-making. Its thrust is to achieve a ‘balance’ of not more than 60% and not less than 40% of either sex on public boards and bodies.”
At a celebratory breakfast in Kingston last Wednesday, Chairperson of the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC) Linnette Vassell spoke of “many gaps.” These are the empty spaces we need to fill, to ensure that Jamaican women enjoy their full representative rights as productive members of society. WROC was a co-sponsor of the birthday party, along with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) office in Jamaica.
Over the past half-century since Independence, Jamaica has not done as well as it could have, for its women. Some may disagree with this statement, but this is my view. Perhaps one could say that Jamaican women have not done enough for themselves. In the year of “Jamaica 50,” for example, women are still barely visible on the political scene, despite the fact that we currently have a woman Prime Minister. Only 12.7 per cent of Jamaican parliamentarians, and seventeen per cent of local government councilors are women.
At the breakfast, Ms. Vassell presented a report card on the 51% Coalition’s activities and achievements over the past year. Of course, this is all work that the Coalition has to continuously build on to achieve longer-term goals. We are not talking instant results, here. However, in the amazing way that women have, the Coalition has already established meaningful partnerships: a support network that will stand it in good stead over the coming years. The influential Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica is seeking to bridge one of the “gaps” by encouraging more women to join private boards. It has provided “train the trainers” instruction in corporate governance. And after twenty years of setting up its Hall of Fame, it has eventually inducted a woman – Ms. Lorna Myers. In a very promising partnership with the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE, headed by Marlene Street-Forrest) the Coalition has addressed company CEOs and circulated a list of 54 women that it recommends for board membership. Collaboration with the JSE is ongoing.
And what of the Government? Well, there are interesting linkages here. The Bureau of Women’s Affairs, led by the dedicated Ms. Faith Webster, is a government agency which falls under the Women’s Affairs portfolio. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has, by the way, held this portfolio for most of the past twenty years or so; during this time, the picture for Jamaican women in public life has been mixed, as noted above. The public-private sector Partnership for Transformation is a key vehicle to enable the 51% Coalition to integrate equity issues into the national dialogue. The previous political administration had committed to an independent seat for a woman in its manifesto, and this will become a reality, which the Coalition welcomes.
The National Policy for Gender Equality is of key importance. The Coalition looks forward to monitoring the debate on this topic and to ensuring that the policy provides a workable and blueprint for the future.
And the politicians? They are the important gatekeepers, standing by the gate that opens to women’s full citizenship; full citizenship meaning full participation and equal representation. The 51% Coalition felt it should and must engage both political parties, as they each tackle new challenges in the wake of the December 2011 general elections. Members have already met with the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which is re-thinking and evaluating its internal structure and strategies, in order to make sure that women’s empowerment and gender issues are firmly on the table. We shall see what comes out of that. (Incidentally, the JLP fielded a record number of female candidates in the 2011 parliamentary elections – thirteen, most of them new to representational politics – but only three seasoned women contenders were successful. Five out of the People’s National Party‘s six candidates won or retained their seats).
The Coalition has also set up a political and constitutional reform working group, with two specific aims in mind. Firstly, the group seeks to ensure that gender issues are addressed in the reform of electoral laws; a meeting with the Electoral Office of Jamaica was scheduled for this week. Recommendations on gender issues have also been made to the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, for inclusion in its 2013-15 agenda.
Let us return, for a moment, to the Prime Minister who is also responsible for Women’s Affairs, Portia Simpson Miller. The 51% Coalition is still waiting for a meeting to discuss with her its key objectives and plans for the way ahead; this should take place soon. Specifically, the Coalition would like to press upon the Prime Minister the importance of adopting and implementing the Corporate Governance Framework for Public Bodies in Jamaica, which her predecessors had adopted.
For example let us take a look at the Urban Development Corporation (UDC). Chaired by government Senator K.D. Knight, the UDC is a major government agency which falls under the Prime Minister’s portfolio. An Auditor General’s report pointed to its huge indebtedness and its major operating losses of close to J$500 million. The Coalition’s Ms. Vassell called this state of affairs “truly alarming,” pointing to the need for a Public Accountability Act and other legal measures to deal poor corporate governance in the public sector. (By the way, there are five women on the UDC’s 22-member board). In this respect, the Coalition has made specific proposals for specific competent women to be included on the board of this and other government agencies (the National Water Commission‘s nine-member board, for example, includes just one woman; this agency has come under fire just this week for its billions of dollars of losses; and only 32 per cent of the water it supplies is actually paid for).
Up to April 2012, at least seventy per cent of public sector boards were chaired by men; and more than half had less than 20 per cent women board members. A few years ago, the picture was very much the same – very little progress. Don’t you think that if more women were appointed to their boards they would have a new dimension to offer to these struggling government agencies? In seeking to address this, the 51% Coalition has conducted a series of public consultations in Kingston, Mandeville and Ocho Rios with women appointed to public boards; these were attended by 186 women and a few men, and the response was highly positive. Some women are ready to go out and advocate.
Other issues that the 51% Coalition looks forward to discussing with the Prime Minister include possible collaboration with her Office on the agenda of priorities established by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); as well as the approach to gender-based violence, a critical issue for Jamaica.
What is in the future for the Coalition then? There are many plans ahead, including forging on with the issues above. A media and publicity campaign to stimulate discussion around these issues will be stepped up (listen out for some thought-provoking PSAs early in 2013!) The Coalition will build on partnerships already established with women’s groups and tap into the growing interest in the private sector; it will expand and diversify its recommendations for board representation by women; it will continue to facilitate training and support for female board members through mentoring.
Most of all, the Coalition wants to see growing activism and hands-on work among its members. It would like more women (and men) to speak on these issues at service clubs, churches, community meetings and so on. Get the dialogue going. Help is needed with the mobilization of all kinds of resources. Moreover, women need to look inside themselves; they need to support each other, at every opportunity. “We need to overcome the barriers within ourselves,” as Ms. Vassell noted.
So, there is much work ahead. The Coalition has more growing up to do, and much to get its teeth into. Its voice is growing louder, and will continue to grow in the next year of its existence. Its objectives are clear; its vision is sharply focused. It intends to make things happen.
Happy birthday again! And here is a quote from a pioneer of women’s rights, Eleanor Roosevelt:
We women are callow fledglings as compared with the wise old birds who manipulate the political machinery, and we still hesitate to believe that a woman can fill certain positions in public life as competently and adequately as a man.
But the times are a-changing… And in the words of President Barack Obama, the 51% Coalition’s vibrant membership is “fired up, ready to go!” And no reason to hesitate.
For further information, please contact the 51 % Coalition Secretariat:
Ms. Anna-Kaye Rowe
Tel: 929-8873, 960-9067
Related links and websites:
http://www.caribjournal.com/2012/11/27/forbes-jamaicas-womens-coalition-marks-first-anniversary/ (Jamaica’s Women’s Coalition Marks First Anniversary: Carib Journal)
http://www.marciaforbes.com/content/women-performed-well-jamaica’s-2011-elections (Women performed well in Jamaica’s 2011 elections: MarciaForbes.com)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/madam-director-madam-chair/ (Madam Director, Madam Chair: petchary.wordpress.com)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/we-are-the-51-per-cent/ (We Are the 51 Per Cent: petchary.wordpress.com)
http://www.eclac.org/mujer/noticias/paginas/6/38906/Jamaica.pdf (Report from Jamaica to the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean/ECLAC)
http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/ (UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women)
http://wrocjamaica.org/womens-leadership/51-coalition-additional-resources/npge-ja/view (National Policy on Gender Equality: pdf document on WROC website)
http://www.wrocjamaica.org (Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre website)
http://www.fesdc.org (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Washington website)
http://www.psoj.org (Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica website)
http://www.bwa-jamaica.gov.jm (Bureau of Women’s Affairs website)
http://www.jamstockex.com/index.php (Jamaica Stock Exchange website)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=36675 (K.D. Knight new UDC Chairman: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.udcja.com (Urban Development Corporation website)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121011/lead/lead7.html (Under-utilized facilities put huge hole in UDC finances: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120729/lead/lead2.html ($400 million shame in the city: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/No-to-a-tariff-increase-for-the-NWC_13116803 (No to a tariff increase for the NWC: Jamaica Observer editorial)
“Let’s find a ‘win-win’ solution to the issue of diversity on public sector boards,” urged Judith Wedderburn, Director of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), at the cozy Alhambra Inn in Kingston on Wednesday night (June 20, 2012).
I had the honor of joining a high-powered group of Jamaican women for a “Conversation,” a sharing of views and experiences on good governance and women on public sector boards. The meeting was organized by the 51% Coalition: Women in Partnership for Development and Empowerment through Equity, a recently formed alliance of women, women’s organizations and partners with the aim of “Promoting Gender Diversity in Leadership.” The Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC) and the FES collaborated with the Coalition for the three-hour discussion. (Oh yes, why 51%, you may ask? Because statistically women make up 51% of the Jamaican population).
The gathering of about fifty women had one thing in common: They are all directors of various Jamaican government agencies – the Child Development Agency, the Housing Agency of Jamaica, the Rural Electrification Program, school boards, health boards, local government entities and so on. There were also two or three board chairs. One group from Mandeville was headed by Mayor Brenda Ramsay; another had traveled from Montego Bay. Some had only recently joined boards; others were more seasoned. There was “diversity and power in the room,” Ms. Wedderburn noted. They were at the Alhambra Inn not only to share and learn from each other, but also to discuss the benefits of, and guiding principles for women serving on public sector boards. They were also meeting to discuss the issue of good governance. For example, what is expected of board members in general; and how should women in particular use board membership to their advantage, and to the advantage of other Jamaican women who are seeking leadership?
Executive Director of the influential Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) and the 51% Coalition Sandra Glasgow started us all thinking with her presentation on “Why Jamaican Public Sector Boards Need More Women.” A remarkable amount of research has been done on this topic already, she noted – including a revealing 2009 Ernst & Young report, “Groundbreakers,” and research by University of Michigan Professor Scott Page, Catalyst and others. In 2010 the global median of women on private sector boards was a mere 12 per cent; in 2007 in Jamaica it was 16 per cent on private sector and 33 per cent on public sector boards. Since then the percentage on public boards has slipped to 31 per cent; but the process of appointments is still ongoing. And yes, politics is a factor; WROC’s Linnette Vassell asserted unequivocally that the method of selection of board members is “still too closely linked to the political process.” Of 91 boards polled by the PSOJ, 70 were chaired by men.
These researchers – and many others – have determined that “a diverse group almost always outperforms homogenous boards” by a substantial margin. Michigan’s Professor Page adds,“Diversity IS strategy.” Boards with female members have a strategic advantage. There is a major push in Europe for more women on public and private boards, and some countries already use legislation to reinforce this – or are considering that option. But how and why does a gender-balanced board do better than one dominated by men, for example? “Female directors behave differently,” said Ms. Glasgow. Their behavior affects how the men behave; they set an example of conscientiousness. Women’s attendance records are better, and they prepare better for meetings (one should spend two to three hours studying board papers before a meeting). This keeps the men on their toes. As it stands now, women represent a vast, untapped resource; in these days of economic crisis, we should take the opportunity for a “rethink” - women will help to strengthen the private or public sector body’s performance, and this has been proved time and again. Including women is simply good for business.
What else can women bring to the boardroom table? Women are instinctively more concerned for the interests of the under-privileged, as well as for other women and children. This is a part of the balance; don’t leave them out.
But what is the ideal gender balance? Some experts say the “critical mass, or tipping point” is three women on a board (but of course this depends on the size of the board). What the 51% Coalition is aiming for (and this is a generally accepted standard) is a 40%-60% balance on either side. A board comprising entirely of women (there is one in Jamaica, the National Council on Education) is not ideal. However, none of the women in the room served on a board with the 40- 60 balance. Some were the only woman on the board; most were in groups of two or three, but with some boards numbering up to nineteen. So, the balance was tipped heavily in favor of men. Besides, women only get appointed to “certain types” of committees; many other committees are the preserve of the men.
Many women want to become directors, said Ms. Glasgow. She admitted, however, that she was “a little pessimistic” that more would be appointed – unless positive, concrete action is taken. A woman can become a change agent within the board, pushing for more women to join you; and women can – and should – publicly promote the principle of gender diversity on boards.
Former Senator and a stalwart of Jamaica’s women’s movement and the Jamaica Women’s Political Caucus, Ms. Donna Scott-Mottley, opened up the floor for our illustrious group to share their experiences. Ms. Enith Williams, who had served on several boards in New York before returning to her native Jamaica, said that in her experience, male board members “always had an agenda, and used the board to achieve it.” Women, she suggested, must “be clear about working collaboratively” as a board, not just in support of an individual’s personal projects and goals. This is another strength of a woman board member; they are often more inclusive and more concerned with the welfare and the contribution of the whole to the organization. After all, we were reminded, the shareholders in public sector entities are the Jamaican people. “We may have different views,” observed civil society activist and board member Yvonne McCalla Sobers, “but we should not have differing agendas.” Public sector boards should always keep in mind that they exist to serve the people. One woman complained of what she saw as the selfish and unethical behavior of her chairman. When she protested and refused to be one of his “yes men” (or woman, in this case) the chairman lectured her, both publicly and privately, for her impertinence. Financier Ms. Megan Deane advised her to make sure that board meeting records reflected her objections; she should also register her concerns with the Permanent Secretary or other superiors. On private sector boards, it was noted, men have used sexist comments and bad language. This is unacceptable; a protest should be recorded – and if the worst comes to the worst, the woman should consider her resignation. “Don’t be afraid to be a whistleblower” if necessary, commented one of our presenters.
51% Coalition member Carol Narcisse reminded us, “How do we ensure that the public interest is served?” How can we achieve this? We must keep in mind, as the PSOJ’s Greta Bogues stressed in her presentation, that “the whole is far greater than the individuals” on any board. Ms. Bogues, who chairs the PSOJ’s Corporate Governance Committee, gave us a remarkably detailed and useful overview of “Core Tenets of Good Corporate Governance.” This should be available on WROC’s website shortly; or if you ask me, I can email you a copy. It is invaluable.
And yet, when all is said and done, “Corporate governance is not a destination, it’s a journey,” in Ms. Bogues’ words. It is an imperfect process and needs to be worked on – a bit like democracy. As Carol Archer of the South East Regional Health Authority observed, “You can’t always achieve consensus,” but the men and women on public sector boards must always ask themselves how the public benefits from any decisions they make.
Bearing all of the above in mind, how can women support an increase in the number of women on public sector boards? Well, the 51% Coalition has made progress in this regard; it has sent a list of 54 women it recommends for boards to selected ministers. The Jamaica Stock Exchange has supported its work with training and this list will be posted on the JSE’s website, as well as on the PSOJ and WROC websites. A meeting with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has been requested.
“I am not a feminist,” one young board member confided in me at the end of this highly stimulating event. “But I do believe in fairness and equity, we should all work towards that.” Nuff said.
Personal note to self: I have the greatest admiration for all the women who were our guides through this conversation. They are not only dedicated, focused and highly intelligent – but they are all-embracing, inclusive, progressive, fair. I am truly proud of the contribution these women have made over many years (and they don’t look a day older, by the way!) and it was an enormous pleasure to be in their presence and to interact with them.
Another note on the 51% Coalition: WROC chair Lorna Lee noted that it is “getting stronger and stronger every day,” and this meeting was strong evidence of this. I will write more on this important group – a natural progression from years of dynamic partnerships among Jamaican women – in a later blog post. Meanwhile, if you would like to contact the Coalition, you may call (876) 929-8873 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- http://www.marciaforbes.com/content/51-coalition-–-development-empowerment-through-equity: 51% Coalition: Development and Empowerment Through Equity (marciaforbes.com)
- http://www.dogoodjamaica.org/organizations/freidrich_ebert_stiftung_jamaica_the_eastern_caribbean: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Jamaica
- http://www.psoj.org/: Private Sector Organization of Jamaica
- http://wrocjamaica.org/: Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre
- http://www.caribjournal.com/2012/06/20/haitis-martelly-authorizes-official-publication-of-amended-1987-constitution/: Haiti’s Martelly Authorizes Official Publication of Amended Constitution (Caribbean Journal.com)
- NGO applauds government effort to appoint more women to assemblies (ghananewsagency.org)
- Sunday Swirl: June 3, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Sunday Simmer (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Changing the face of boards (business.financialpost.com)
- Tories to create advisory council to promote women as corporate directors (theglobeandmail.com)
- ION President Meyerrose Joins “Moving the Needle” Task Force for Corporate Board Member Event at NYSE Connecting Qualified Women with Public Company Boards (prweb.com)
- Do TriMet’s board members ride their buses and trains? Yes, no comment and sometimes (if Portland Streetcar counts) (oregonlive.com)
- Why We Need More Women on Corporate Boards (bigthink.com)